AT last, some accountability. Some days ago, a little over three years after Wali Khan Babar was shot dead while on his way home from work at a local television channel in Karachi, six people were convicted of the young reporter’s murder. Two of them, who have never been apprehended, were sentenced to death in absentia while four others, arrested a few months after the killing, were given life imprisonment. After Daniel Pearl, this is the first case of a journalist’s murder in Pakistan in which there has been a conviction. It is a welcome development in a country deemed one of the world’s most dangerous for journalists where, according to international watchdog organisations, scores of journalists have been killed over the last decade by violent ethnic, religious or militant groups and there have been times where even the country’s security establishment has come under suspicion.
In order to undo the culture of impunity that surrounds such murders, the successful prosecution in this instance must not be an exception; the cases of other slain journalists should be pursued with alacrity and determination. Although the Wali Babar case had all the twists and turns typical of a high-profile crime — several witnesses were murdered and two prosecutors reportedly fled abroad on account of threats — it also demonstrated that strong resolve and an innovative approach on the part of the state can yield results. The decision to move the trial from Karachi to an anti-terrorism court in Shikarpur was perhaps pivotal in bringing about a conclusive result, as it placed vulnerable individuals who were material to the prosecution at a distance from those seeking to silence them. The Wali Babar case is thus important for the signal it sends to those who would silence journalists for doing their job. The same needs to be done in the case of other journalists killed in the country, not the least of them being Saleem Shahzad. Without that, suspicions of the state’s complicity by either omission or commission will remain.